Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Private School Options in Indy
Finding the perfect fit for your child

by Brooke Reynolds

September 01, 2011

Because of your desire to help your child achieve their highest potential, a private school may be the best way to custom-fit your child’s education. Private school isn’t just for the rich or religious – it can fit any child.

“Private schools have the ability to choose their own mission, develop a curriculum that reflects that mission, and to admit students who can be well-served by the school,” Susan Karpicke, Ed.D., director of admissions at Sycamore School, said.

According to Stacy Gruen, associate director of external relations at the International School of Indiana, student¬—teacher ratios are significantly lower at independent schools. “There is no concern about schools ‘teaching to the test,’ as there is no ‘test’ to teach to,” she said. “Teachers have much more freedom to develop curriculum and thus to use teaching methods that are geared toward students’ strengths and weaknesses.”

At University High School, students can find typical class sizes of 20 students maximum, with a teacher load of about 60 or 70 students a week, this is compared to some schools with loads greater than 150 students in a week, said Nancy Webster, director of admission.

“We think that at University High School, every single child is known and understood by their teacher,” said Webster.

At University High School, they also offer a mentor program, where students have a mentor who is either a teacher or school administrator, which whom they meet with every 10 school days and is a four-year relationship, Webster said.

Matt Keller, public relations and marketing coordinator at The Orchard School, said he sees a more structured and personalized education in a private school. He said parents can be assured that language arts, music, fine arts and physical education programs are kept in place in private schools, despite cuts in those curricula across the state.

For students who learn differently and perhaps need a more personalized learning environment, look into Midwest Academy of Indiana, said Edy Stoughton, PhD, head of school. “We offer small classes (averaging 10:1) and faculty mentoring. We are a small school with personalized education so we know our students very well,” Stoughton said. “We believe in educating the whole child, and so we emphasize community service and leadership opportunities.”

At St. Richard's Episcopal School, a small class size is also offered. Zach Schalk, marketing coordinator, said, "Our small class sizes and outstanding faculty foster enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity in our students." Schalk also commented on the school's diverse student population, with students representing over 20 different countries of the world and with a variety of faith backgrounds. "We believe this makes St. Richard's an exceptional choice for families seeking a rigorous global education."

Considering these notions, if the private school route seems to fit your family best, don’t wait until summer to decide where your child will attend school that fall. Gather information and begin the process as soon as possible so that you have time to deliberate the traits your family desires in a school.

“This is particularly important for families who may be new to private school education, but it's a worthwhile exercise even for families who are familiar with private education, as every school and school community is unique,” Duane Emery, vice president for enrollment management at Cathedral High School, said. “Allow plenty of time for exploration so you will find that perfect fit for your child.”

Narrow down what you consider to be the most important characteristics of a school. Emery recommended thinking about the school size, location, unique programs, co-curricular activities, athletic programs, fine arts programs, diversity of the student body and religious affiliation.

Once you’ve decided what you’re looking for in a school, peruse all potential schools’ Web sites. Talk to parents, students, counselors, spiritual leaders and teachers from those schools for insiders’ perspectives. Continually narrow down your list of schools if some seem mismatched for your child.

Then you’ll want to attend open houses and other school functions at each location. “Families can use these opportunities to determine whether or not the school actually lives the values it states and, if so, whether or not that aligns with what the family wants,” Emery said.

Go back to the schools you especially liked for individual tours. This is your chance to build relationship with administrators, ask questions and walk the halls while schools are in session. Keller suggested that parents step in and observe classes in action. “The classroom is where the magic happens in a school – never overlook it,” he said. Kids may also shadow current students for a day.

David Amstutz, director of admissions and associate head of school at Park Tudor, also recommends for parents to plan a visit or two during the school days to observe the teachers and students in the classroom. “At Park Tudor, we feel that experience is so important that we've created special 'See Us in Action' days that allow prospective parents to meet teachers, students and administrators during a typical school day,” Amstutz said.

Next, be sure you understand the admissions process for each school you like best. Families should find out what testing and academic records are required, when applications are due, and whether essays, interviews, portfolios and/or letters of recommendation are necessary. Don’t forget to apply for financial aid if you wish to do so.

When schools evaluate students for admission, a student’s ability to succeed academically will usually be the most important factor. Schools will generally consider the student’s grade trends, course loads, standardized test scores and school records from previous schools.

Aside from academics, schools often will consider extracurricular activities, leadership experience, volunteer or community service experience, the quality of the essay(s) and the quality of interview(s) if they are part of the process. According to Emery, having a parent and/or sibling who has attended that school might become a factor. At schools operated by a specific church or group of churches, the family’s membership in a parish or church community might be considered. “It is wise to ask schools what they consider, knowing that most schools do not have a “formula” for determining admissibility,” he said.

Gruen offered a few tips for the interview process. She said to anticipate the facilitator’s questions so you can come up with confident answers. Be prepared to divulge the child’s weaknesses in a positive but honest manner. Know what you want, and be able to explain why this school seems to be a good fit for your family.

“During the interview process, it is fair for parents to ask the schools about their child’s likelihood of being offered admission, while understanding that schools can only give a ‘first impression’ and by no means can make a clear decision about admission at that time,” Emery said.

During the interview, Emery said parents should ask about teacher quality and support, counseling services, campus safety, how to be involved as parents, what expectations the school might have of parents and how to access student grades/progress. If at the high school level, ask about college counseling and the four-year curricular plans that will be designed for the student.

As the quality and academic standards of a private school should be priority, Michael Sahm, director of marketing and communications at Bishop Chatard High School, advised that parents not worry too much about tuition costs. “Legislators passed a law enabling vouchers this year, allowing students from low- and middle-income families to seek state funds to help pay the cost of attending private schools,” stated an article called “School voucher program draws early interest,” published in the Indiana Business Journal.

Best of luck as you wait for the acceptance letters from your favorite private schools! If that letter doesn’t quite read in the positive manner you were expecting, don’t fret. Linda Foley, past president association president for The Orchard School, said her son wasn’t accepted for kindergarten, but they reapplied and got accepted for his first grade year. “When things don’t work out, there’s a reason for it. Maybe it wouldn’t have been a good fit anyway,” Foley said. “But if there’s something you really want, try again the next year, because sometimes the results just boil down to a numbers game. If it’s a heavy numbers year where lots of kids are applying, try again the next year. You might have better luck like we did.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement’s article said choosing your child’s school may make you more confident that he or she will be taught effectively and treated fairly. Choosing your child’s school carefully is an important way you can help your child achieve all that they can be. This is a head and a heart decision. Don’t be afraid to heed your own informed and intuitive wisdom.